The story of mobility is as old as humanity itself. For more than a century, “mobility” — the concept of moving people, goods, and services from one point to another — has most often been associated with the automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle sectors. These industries, along with their diverse supply chains, amount to more than a $5-trillion market worldwide. The three sectors are continuously innovating with notable progress in autonomous vehicles development serving passenger mobility and the entire gamut of commercial applications (multi-modal freight covering highway/middle-mile/last-mile, agricultural, marine, amphibious, etc.). In addition, drones, eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing transports), and autonomous delivery vehicles as part of an evolving system of urban air mobility (UAM) and urban ground mobility (UGM) are all emerging manifestations of mobility.
In the past decade, advancements in telecommunications and computing have dramatically altered mobility. Today, when we speak of transportation, we are also speaking of automated vehicles, smart cities, and dozens of other innovations that possess the ability to not only move people and goods but to reshape our lives and societies and influence the fate of our planet.
At SAE International, we pride ourselves on being the mobility organization. When we state our mission to “advance mobility knowledge and solutions for the benefit of humanity,” we don’t limit it to the obvious manifestations of mobility or its traditional interpretations.
At SAE’s inception, automobiles were starting to replace the horse and buggy and the first aircraft was just taking flight. Since that time, we’ve seen the modes of mobility evolve drastically with the emergence of autonomous, electric, and urban air vehicles, among others, and new markets such as the defense and commercial industries applying new technologies to differentiate their positions in the mobility sector.
As we look to what’s next for mobility, it is critical to identify the most impactful technologies, especially those that may have initially matured in different sectors but offer promise for the world of mobility. SAE International is redefining and expanding our definition of mobility to include these adjacent technologies:
Automated and unmanned systems
As we expand and evolve mobility, the industries we can serve are also expanding. Take the medical device and pharmaceutical industries as an example. The technologies being explored and applied to automotive and aerospace mobility also have immense importance to provide mobility to those with physical or cognitive challenges. Whether it’s delivering lifesaving medications and vaccines; transporting those with limited movement to jobs, healthcare, or education; or even providing those with orthopedic ailments who previously were unable to walk or move their arms a chance to perform basic biological mobility functions, calculating the value of the mobility ecosystem is nearly impossible.
Traditional aerospace and automotive OEMs and their suppliers are now expanding into the medical market, driven in part by the pandemic as well as by increased demand from an aging population who suffer from reduced mobility. Designed to guide these companies in that transition, SAE’s upcoming conference, “Evolving to MedDev,” will focus on how to enter the medical devices market, solve short-term COVID-19 PPE needs, and create long-term medical device opportunities (see sidebar).
Fueling this expansion is a global market for mobile health products and services that is expected to reach nearly $200 billion by 2025. According to a recent consumer survey on digital health by Accenture, a significant percentage of U.S. adults are now willing to wear technology that tracks their health statistics. The mobile integration of platforms such as Google Fit and Apple HealthKit is driving an increase in the number of mHealth users we will see over the next few years.
And, while wearable technologies collect the data, artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing for processing of real-time information. Innovative mHealth technologies that use AI ensure that treatment is delivered as it is needed. Similarly, advances in robotics that offer built-in navigation for self-mobility are enabling mHealth and telemedicine like never before.
We are respectful of all forms of mobility and of the engineers who are working to enhance every aspect and industry in which mobility plays a vital role, whether that be motorized or biological mobility. Through the advanced technologies that we are exploring as part of the mobility ecosystem, the relationship among all areas is closer than one would think. Take advanced materials, for example. The standards in titanium and composites that we have developed have a become a global benchmark in the aerospace industry but they’re also readily applicable to the medical device industry, especially in orthopedic devices and surgical implants.
We are engaging with biomedical engineers, medical device manufacturers, and regulatory agencies like the U.S. FDA and NASA to expand the impact of our work so that we continually add value to ever-expanding forms of mobility, from human tissue level transport to inter-stellar transport and everything in between.
By embracing a broad spectrum of enabling technologies, exploring their applications, and applying to diverse markets, we can truly enhance what mobility means. Human mobility is diverse and complex and is evolving beyond conventional industry lines. As we prepare to engage in new ways to broaden the scope of mobility, it is of utmost importance for those within all industries to look not only inward but outward as well to share a strategic vision of cross-functional partnership that advances how we perceive and understand mobility for the benefit of all humankind. SAE International is well prepared to serve as the platform for such world-changing collaboration and innovation, to enhance human mobility in all its forms and functions.
This article was written by Raman Venkatesh, PhD, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at SAE International.